I started blogging in 2007, at my mother’s deathbed.
This isn’t the story I usually tell. I usually say that I always liked to write, and that I was inspired by the communications education at the Scripps Center for Marine Biodiversity & Conservation, and that I had been reading other blogs like Deep Sea News and Blogfish and Malaria etc. and Pharyngula, and wanted to join the conversation. All this is true.
But really, I started blogging as I sat for long hours as my mother slowly – too slowly – faded away from cancer. It was non-smoking-related lung cancer that had spread to her brain, and she hadn’t been aware for weeks. There was no conversation to make. I had dropped all my second-year graduate school classes so there was no work to do. There was just a quiet house, and a computer, and the promise that there were other things in the world beside this.
Part of my writing was motivated by that promise. The other part was motivated by the people. Online, I found people who cared about the same issues I did, who balanced science and communication, who were hilarious and irreverent, and who also believed that one of the keys to saving the ocean was just trying to pay more attention. Meeting in person was almost always a delight, and causing a bit of trouble together (#DSNsuite, anyone?) even more of a delight.
Now, over five years later, blogging and other social media (mostly Twitter), have taken me farther than I ever thought possible. Blogging about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch motivated my doctoral dissertation. The social media skills I developed through independent blogging helped to make the SEAPLEX cruise more successful than I ever thought possible. Blogging about iron fertilization, and seafood, and privilege, gave me the ability to help shape a larger conversation about what the world should be. And blogging was one of the major reasons that I was selected for my current job, which is the reason that I’m writing this post.
I love science. I love spending time with my creature friends (even I did kill them to begin with) – delicate bubble snails and flower-like jellyfish and graceful little copepods. I love figuring out what they are, and asking questions about what’s going on with them, and poking around in the ocean and in the lab until some answers (and more questions) pop up. But there is only so far science can take us. Science can inform, but cannot decide, the hard choices that we as a species must now make.
Starting this February, I’m entering the policy arena as a Knauss Marine Policy Fellow. For the next year, I’ll have the honor of working at the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, Democratic staff, particularly with the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs. Part of the reason I’m able to do this is that I was able to show rather convincingly that I had plenty of experience translating technical information for a general audience. In fact, the interview went something like this:
“We see that you are a qualified scientist, but can you write?”
“You seem very confident.”
“Ok, you can write.”
I’m beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to spend a year at the center of United States environmental policy. But to grow, you have to give something up, and independent participation in social media – especially on issues relevant to the Committee – is not compatible with politics. So, starting on February 4th, just after the Science Online conference, I’ll be taking at least a year-long leave of absence from all public social media.
I don’t know what will happen after that year, since I don’t know what will become of me. Perhaps I’ll re-emerge in a research post-doc position, free to participate online as I please, and with lots of stories to tell. Perhaps I’ll fall in love with Capitol Hill, stay in policy, and continue to avoid a public online presence. Perhaps there’s another path that I don’t know about yet. Regardless, please know that it is all of you – friends and commenters and lurkers – that have made the last five years a formative experience in my life, and a tremendous source of pleasure.
Fair winds and following seas.